15 Oscar-Nominated Actors Who Started Out on Soap Operas

YouTube
YouTube

Daytime soap operas aren’t as popular as they used to be, but there was a time when soon-to-be movie stars regularly honed their skills with the kind of over-the-top emotional melodrama that you can only find on daytime television. Here are 15 of them.

1. TOMMY LEE JONES

From 1971 to 1975, Tommy Lee Jones played the suave Dr. Mark Toland on One Life to Live. Throughout his four-year run, Jones’s character became less stable and more evil, transforming from an affable M.D. to a shifty con artist. Dr. Toland was eventually shot in the head, freeing Jones up to pursue a career in movies like Coal Miner's Daughter, JFK, No Country for Old Men, and The Fugitive, which earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1994.

2. JULIANNE MOORE

In 1985, Julianne Moore got her big break on As The World Turns, where she played the dual role of half-sisters Frannie and Sabrina Hughes, and earned a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Ingenue in a Drama Series for her efforts in 1988. She left As The World Turns for a career on Broadway later that year. "I gained confidence and learned to take responsibility," Julianne Moore said of her time working in daytime television. She returned to As The World Turns in a very brief cameo appearance during the soap opera’s final season in 2010. Earlier this year, the five-time Oscar nominee became a bona fide Oscar winner for her work in Still Alice.

3. LEONARDO DICAPRIO

One year before he landed a recurring role on Growing Pains in 1991, Leonardo DiCaprio appeared on NBC's Santa Barbara. He played the young Mason Capwell in only one episode, but moved on to make appearances on Roseanne and the short-lived sitcom Parenthood. In 1993, DiCaprio landed his first two starring roles on the big-screen in This Boy's Life with Robert De Niro and What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, which earned him his first of five Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture as one of the producers of The Wolf of Wall Street in 2014.

4. WILLIAM H. MACY

While he started his acting career on the stage with playwright David Mamet, William H. Macy made an appearance on Another World in 1982. He played the character Frank Fisk and was credited as “W.H. Macy.” Macy later received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 1997 for his breakout performance in Fargo.

5. MARISA TOMEI

After attending Boston University for only one year, Marisa Tomei landed a recurring role on As The World Turns in 1983. She played ditzy teen Marcy Thompson, who married a prince, Lord Stewart Cushing, and moved to England, where she became Lady Marcy Cushing. Tomei left As The World Turns in 1985 when she received a series regular role on the sitcom A Different World in 1987.

6. ELLEN BURSTYN

Although Ellen Burstyn began her acting career on Broadway in 1957, she also worked on television throughout the 1960s. She starred as Dr. Kate Bartok on the daytime soap The Doctors in 1964. At the time, she was credited as "Ellen McRae,” but changed her name when she married actor/writer Neil Burstyn. Since making the transition to films, Burstyn has received six Oscar nominations, beginning with 1971's The Last Picture Show and most recently for 2000's Requiem for a Dream (she won in 1975, for Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore)

7. JAMES EARL JONES

At age 35, James Earl Jones appeared as two separate doctors in two different daytime soaps in 1966. First he played Dr. Jerry Turner on As The World Turns and then he played Dr. Jim Frazier on Guiding Light. Five years later, he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for The Great White Hope.

8. MELISSA LEO

Melissa Leo made her on-screen debut as Linda Warner on All My Children in 1984. Leo remained a cast member until 1988, when she took a role on the short-lived TV Western The Young Riders. Leo later pursued a career in film, where she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in 2009 for Frozen River and won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The Fighter two years later. 

9. KEVIN KLINE

After establishing a traveling acting company during the early 1970s, Kevin Kline settled in New York City and appeared as the character Woody Reed on the now-defunct Search For Tomorrow on CBS in 1976. He later left the daytime soap for a career on Broadway and eventually on the big screen, where he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1989 for the comedy A Fish Called Wanda.

10. NAOMI WATTS

Naomi Watts’s career began on television in Australia during the early 1990s. She appeared in a number of sitcoms and commercials before landing a recurring role on the daytime soap Home and Away in 1991. Ten years later, she made her mark on Hollywood with her breakout role in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive. Since then, she has received two Academy Award nominations for Best Actress for her work in  2003's 21 Grams and 2012's The Impossible.  

11. SUSAN SARANDON

At the beginning of her career, Susan Sarandon spent two years on two different daytime soaps. In 1971, she appeared as Patrice Kahlman on the short-lived A World Apart, then landed a role as Sarah Fairbanks on Search for Tomorrow the following year. She left daytime television to appear in Billy Wilder’s film adaptation of The Front Page in 1974 and played Janet Weiss in The Rocky Horror Picture Show a year later. Of the five Oscar nominations Sarandon has received throughout her career, she has won one: Best Actress in 1995's Dead Man Walking.

12. BRAD PITT

In 1987, Brad Pitt made a two-episode appearance as Chris, a basketball playing teen, on Another World. Later that year, he landed a meatier recurring role on the primetime soap Dallas. Brad Pitt eventually gained Hollywood stardom as J.D. in Thelma & Louise in 1991 and a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination for his performance as the deranged Jeffrey Goines in 12 Monkeys in 1996. Of his five Oscar nominations, Pitt has only one once—in 2014 for Best Picture as a producer of 12 Years a Slave

13. MORGAN FREEMAN

During the early 1980s, Morgan Freeman appeared on two daytime soap operas before taking up a career in movies. In 1981, he played Cicero Murphy on Ryan’s Hope. The following year, he landed the role of Dr. Roy Bingham on Another World, where he remained for two years. Throughout his career, Freeman has been nominated for five Academy Awards; in 2005, he took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Million Dollar Baby.

14. KATHY BATES

In 1977, Kathy Bates made her TV debut on The Doctors. In 1984, she appeared on All My Children as Erica Kane’s (Susan Lucci) cellmate Belle Bodelle. Though her stint on the latter was short, her story arc as a frightening and crazy prison inmate was memorable among fans—and might very well have prepared her for her Oscar-winning turn as Annie Wilkes in 1990's Misery.

15. ALEC BALDWIN

Before he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in The Cooler in 2003, Alec Baldwin started his professional acting career on the daytime soap The Doctors in 1980. He played Billy Aldrich, a character who was killed by two separate men, unbeknownst to each other, at the same time. Baldwin left The Doctors in 1982 and in 1984 landed a recurring role on the primetime soap Knots Landing.

10 Things You Might Not Know About Columbo

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

For more than 40 years, Peter Falk entered living rooms around the world as Lieutenant Columbo, an unconventional L.A. homicide detective known for his ruffled raincoat and trademark cigar. The actor would go on to win four Emmys for the role, while the series itself remains a benchmark for television crime dramas. But if series creators William Link and Richard Levinson went with their initial choice, the iconic role of Columbo would have gone to a syrupy-smooth crooner rather than the inelegant Falk. Get familiar with one of TV's most unique heroes with facts about Columbo.

1. BING CROSBY WAS ORIGINALLY EYED FOR THE ROLE.

Columbo creators Richard Levinson and William Link's first choice to play their low-key detective was crooner Bing Crosby. Der Bingle loved the script and the character, but he feared that a TV series commitment would interfere with his true passion—golf. It was probably providential that Crosby turned the role down, since his death in 1977 occurred while the series was still a solid hit on NBC. 

2. PETER FALK WAS AN UNEXPECTED SEX SYMBOL.

Peter Falk in 'Columbo'
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Character actor Lee J. Cobb was also considered for the role, until Peter Falk phoned co-creator William Link. Falk had gotten a copy of the script from his agents at William Morris and told Link that he’d “kill to play that cop.” Link and Levinson knew the actor back from their days of working in New York, and even though he was the opposite of everything they’d originally pictured for Lt. Columbo, they had to admit that Falk had a certain likeability that translated to both men and women. Falk was described by a certain female demographic as “sexy,” and males liked him because he was an unthreatening, humble, blue-collar underdog who was smarter than the wealthy perps he encountered.

3. FALK WAS A GOVERNMENT WORKER BEFORE BECOMING AN ACTOR.

Peter Falk wasn’t too far removed from the character he played. In real life he tended to be rumpled and disheveled and was forever misplacing things (he was famous for losing his car keys and having to be driven home from the studio by someone else). He was also intelligent, having earned a master’s degree in Public Administration from Syracuse University, which led to him working for the State of Connecticut’s Budget Bureau as an efficiency expert until the acting bug bit him. He was also used to being underestimated due to his appearance; he’d lost his right eye to cancer at age three, and many of his drama teachers in college warned him of his limited chances in film due to his cockeyed stare. Indeed, after a screen test at Columbia Pictures Harry Cohn dismissed him by saying, “For the same price I can get an actor with two eyes.”

4. COLUMBO'S DOG WASN'T A WELCOME SIGHT AT FIRST.

Columbo's dog
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

When Columbo was renewed for a second season, NBC brass had a request: they wanted the lieutenant to have a sidekick. Perhaps a young rookie detective just learning the ropes. Link and Levinson were resistant to the idea, but the network was pressuring them. They conferred with Steven Bochco, who was writing the script for the season opener, “Etude in Black,” and together they hatched the idea of giving Lt. Columbo a dog as a “partner.” Falk was against the idea at first; he felt that between the raincoat, cigar, and Peugeot his character had enough gimmicks. But when he met the lethargic, drooling Basset Hound that had been plucked from a pound, Falk knew it was perfect for Columbo's dog.

The original dog passed away in between the end of the original NBC run of the series and its renewal on ABC, so a replacement was necessary. The new pup was visibly younger than the original dog, and as a result spent more time in the makeup chair to make him look older.

5. FALK'S REAL-LIFE WIFE PLAYED A ROLE IN THE SERIES.

Falk first met Shera Danese, the woman who would become his second wife, on the set of his 1976 film Mikey & Nicky. The movie was being filmed in Danese’s hometown of Philadelphia, and the aspiring actress had landed work as an extra. They were married in 1977, and she was able to pad out her resume by appearing on several episodes of Columbo. Her first few appearances were limited to small walk-on parts—secretaries, sexy assistants, etc. By the time the series was resurrected on ABC in the early 1990s, she was awarded larger roles.

She originally auditioned for the role of the titular rock star in 1991’s “Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star,” but her husband adamantly refused, since the role included a scene of her in bed making love to a much younger man. She instead played the role of a co-conspiring attorney, and was also allowed to sing the song that was the major hit for the murdered star.

6. THE CHARACTER'S TRADEMARK RAINCOAT CAME FROM FALK'S CLOSET.

The initial wardrobe proposed for Columbo struck Peter Falk as completely wrong for the character. To get closer to what he wanted for Columbo, the actor went into his closet and found a beat-up coat he had bought years earlier when caught in a rainstorm on 57th Street. And he ordered one of the blue suits chosen for him to be dyed brown. The drab outfit would become one of the trademarks of the character for decades.

7. STEVEN SPIELBERG GOT AN EARLY BREAK ON COLUMBO.

“Murder by the Book” was the second Columbo episode filmed, but it was the first one to air after the show was picked up as a series. Filming was delayed for a month, though, when Falk refused to sign off on this “kid”—a 25-year-old named Steven Spielberg—to direct the episode. Finally he watched a few of Spielberg’s previous credits (all of them TV episodes) and was impressed by his work on the short-lived NBC series called The Psychiatrist. Once filming was underway, Falk was impressed by many of the techniques employed by the young director, such as filming a street scene with a long lens from a building across the road. “That wasn’t common 20 years ago,” Falk said. He went on to tell producers Link and Levinson that “this guy is too good for Columbo."

8. COLUMBO'S FIRST NAME WOUND UP THE SUBJECT OF A LAWSUIT.

Fred L. Worth, author of several books of trivia facts, had a sneaking feeling that other folks were using his meticulously researched facts without crediting him. He set a “copyright trap” and mentioned in one of his books that Lt. Columbo’s first name was “Philip,” although he had completely fabricated that so-called fact. Sure enough, a 1984 edition of the Trivial Pursuit board game listed the “Philip” Columbo name as an answer on one of their cards, which led to a $300 million lawsuit filed by Mr. Worth.

The board game creators admitted in court that they’d garnered their Columbo fact from Worth’s book, but the judge ultimately determined that it was not an actionable offense. By the way, years later when Columbo was available in syndicated reruns and HD TV was an option, alert viewers were able to freeze-frame a scene where the rumpled lieutenant extended his badge for identification purposes in the season one episode “Dead Weight” and determine that his first name was, in fact, “Frank.”

9. THE SERIES DIDN'T FOLLOW A STANDARD MYSTERY FORMAT.

The premise of Columbo was the “inverted mystery,” or a “HowCatchEm” instead of a “WhoDunIt.” Every episode began with the actual crime being played out in full view of the audience, meaning viewers already knew “WhodunIt.” What they wanted to know is how Lt. Columbo would slowly zero in on the perpetrator. This sort of story was particularly challenging for the series’s writers, and they sometimes found inspiration in the most unlikely places. Like the Yellow Pages, for example. One of Peter Falk’s personal favorite episodes, “Now You See Him,” had its genesis when the writers were flipping through the telephone book looking for a possible profession for a Columbo murderer (keep in mind that all of Columbo’s victims and perps were of the Beverly Hills elite variety, not your typical Starsky and Hutch-type thug).

A page listing professional magicians caught their eye, and that led to a classic episode featuring the ever-suave Jack Cassidy playing the role of the former SS Nazi officer who worked as a nightclub magician. When the Jewish nightclub owner recognized him and threatened to expose him, well, you can guess what happened. But the challenge is to guess how Lt. Columbo ultimately caught him. 

10. THERE WAS A SPINOFF THAT KIND OF WAS BUT THEN WASN'T.

The 1979 TV series entitled Mrs. Columbo was not technically related to the original Peter Falk series. In fact, Levinson and Link opposed the entire concept of the series; it was NBC honcho Fred Silverman who gave the OK to use the Columbo name and imply that Kate Mulgrew was the widowed/divorced wife (the series changed names and backstories several times during its short run) of the famed homicide detective. The “real” Mrs. Columbo was never mentioned by her first name during the original series, but actor Peter Falk possibly slipped and revealed that her name was “Rose” when he appeared at this Dean Martin Roast saluting Frank Sinatra and asked for an autograph.

12 Savory Facts About Bacon

iStock
iStock

Bacon is everywhere these days. You can find it in ice cream, coffee, cupcakes, and chewing gum. There are bacon-scented candles, bacon lip balm, and even a bacon deodorant. With bacon saturating every corner of the market, it’s worth looking at the origins of this smoky, salty food and how it became so wildly popular. In honor of National Bacon Lovers Day, here are a few facts to whet your appetite.

1. IT DATES BACK TO 1500 BCE.

The Chinese were the first to cook salted pork bellies more than 3000 years ago. This makes bacon one of the world’s oldest processed meats.

2. ROMANS CALLED IT "PETASO."

Bacon eventually migrated westward, where it became a dish worthy of modern-day foodies. The Romans made petaso, as they called it, by boiling salted pig shoulder with figs, and then seasoning the mixture with pepper sauce. Wine was, of course, a frequent accompaniment.

3. THE WORD REFERS TO THE "BACK" OF A PIG.


Getty Images

The word bacon comes from the Germanic root “-bak,” and refers to the back of the pig that supplied the meat. Bakko became the French bacco, which the English then adopted around the 12th century, naming the dish bacoun. Back then, the term referred to any pork product, but by the 14th century bacoun referred specifically to the cured meat.

4. THE FIRST BACON FACTORY OPENED IN 1770.

For generations, local farmers and butchers made bacon for their local communities. In England, where it became a dietary staple, bacon was typically "dry cured" with salt and then smoked. In the late 18th century, a businessman named John Harris opened the first bacon processing plant in the county of Wiltshire, where he developed a special brining solution for finishing the meat. The "Wiltshire Cure" method is still used today, and is a favorite of bacon lovers who prefer a sweeter, less salty taste.

5. "BRINGING HOME THE BACON" GOES BACK CENTURIES.

These days the phrase refers to making money, but its origins have nothing to do with income. In 12th century England, churches would award a "flitch," or a side, of bacon to any married man who swore before God that he and his wife had not argued for a year and a day. Men who "brought home the bacon" were seen as exemplary citizens and husbands.

6. IT HELPED MAKE EXPLOSIVES DURING WORLD WAR II.

In addition to planting victory gardens and buying war bonds, households were encouraged to donate their leftover bacon grease to the war effort. Rendered fats created glycerin, which in turn created bombs, gunpowder, and other munitions. A promotional film starring Minnie Mouse and Pluto chided housewives for throwing out more than 2 billion pounds of grease every year; "That’s enough glycerin for 10 billion rapid-fire cannon shells."

7. HARDEE’S FRISCO BURGER WAS A GAME CHANGER FOR BACON.

Bacon took a beating in the 1980s, when dieting trends took aim at saturated fats and cholesterol. By the '90s, though, Americans were ready to indulge again. Hardee’s Frisco Burger, one of the first fast-food burgers served with bacon, came out in 1992 and was a hit. It revived bacon as an ingredient, and convinced other fast-food companies to bacon-ize their burgers. Bloomberg called it "a momentous event for fast food, and bacon’s fate, in America."

8. THE AVERAGE AMERICAN CONSUMES 18 POUNDS OF BACON EACH YEAR.

Savory, salty, and appropriately retro: The past couple years have been a bonanza for bacon, with more than three quarters of restaurants now serving bacon dishes, and everything from candy canes to gumballs now flavored with bacon. Recent reports linking processed meats to increased cancer risk have put a dent in consumption, and may have a prolonged effect. But for now, America’s love affair with bacon continues.

9. THERE’S A CHURCH OF BACON.

This officially sanctioned church boasts 13,000 members under the commandment "Praise Bacon." It’s more a rallying point for atheists and skeptics than for bacon lovers, per se, and there’s no official location as of yet. But the church does perform wedding ceremonies and fundraisers, and has raised thousands of dollars for charity. All bacon praise is welcome, even if you're partial to vegetarian or turkey bacon over the traditional pork. Hallelujah!

10. THERE'S ALSO A BACON CAMP.


Getty Images

It’s like summer camp, but with less canoeing and more bacon cooking. Held every year in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Camp Bacon features speakers, cooking classes, and other bacon-related activities for chefs and enthusiasts eager to learn more about their favorite food.

11. MODERN TECHNOLOGY WANTS TO HELP YOU WAKE UP AND SMELL BACON.

An ingenious combination of toaster and alarm clock, the Wake 'n Bacon made waves a few years back with the promise of waking up to fresh-cooked bacon. Sadly, the product never made it past the prototype phase, but those intent on rising to that smoky, savory aroma were able to pick up Oscar Mayer’s special app, which came with a scent-emitting attachment.

12. THERE’S A BACON SCULPTURE OF KEVIN BACON.

It had to happen eventually. Artist Mike Lahue used seven bottles of bacon bits, lots of glue, and five coats of lacquer to create a bust of the Footloose star, which sold at auction a few years back. No word on how well the bacon bit Bacon bust has held up.

This article originally ran in 2016.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER